No Control

Shannon K. Butcher
2008, Romantic Suspense
Warner Forever, $6.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0446618667

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Warm

No Control has a fast paced plot, a totally yummy hero, and a villain who is so sick and twisted she made my flesh crawl. Normally that would spell romantic suspense DIK for sure. If only the heroine hadn't been so inexplicably secretive and downright TSTL.

Lana Hancock and a few friends went to Armenia on a good-will mission to help teach children, only to be captured by a group of terrorists who called themselves the Swarm. Swarm's members tortured and killed Lana's friends - and filmed it! - and planned to blow up a school full of children. They even had an expert in explosives with them, a big silent man named Miles Gentry. Just as Lana was about to be killed, Gentry slit the terrorist's throat, grabbed Lana and ran with her to safety. Miles Gentry is actually Caleb Stone, an undercover Delta Force member who couldn't help Lana until he finally heard that his team members had succeeded in stopping the school bombing. Although Caleb and his companions killed most of the Swarm organization, the ones who actually plotted the abduction and bombing got away.

Over a year later, Lana has mostly recovered but she is scarred both outside and inside. She throws all her energy into the foundation she started to help children in bad home situations. Fund-raising for the foundation keeps her too busy to dwell on the past as long as she is awake, but the nights bring terrible nightmares. One day, Caleb shows up at her workplace. Caleb's superiors at Delta Force have information that the leaders of the Swarm are planning something and they believe Lana might not have told them everything she knew when she was debriefed after her rescue. They have dispatched Caleb to go to Lana and see if he can discover what she knows. Lana has long forgiven Caleb for not helping her, since she understands the situation he was in and she is grateful to him for saving her life, but there's no denying that his presence brings back some terrible memories.

For his part, Caleb is tortured with guilt that he was unable to save Lana's friends and that he had to see her beaten and her bones broken. He tries his best to be unobtrusive and helpful and also to find out just what it is that she's hiding. It turns out that the secret Lana is hiding is a bombshell. Kara, one of the terrorists from the Swarm, is back and working as a volunteer in the after school program that Lana's foundation funds. Lana is frightened out of her wits, but she thinks if she can just be quiet, maybe Kara will leave. However, Kara is out to impress a man who is higher up in the terrorist ranks and this time she is going to complete the mission.

Caleb is a wonderful tortured hero. He knows, intellectually, that what happened with Lana and her friends wasn't his fault, but since he is a very protective man at heart, what he saw in Armenia hurt him deeply. He does all he can do to make amends to Lana and to get her to tell him what is bothering her. He isn't a caveman - he doesn't beat his chest and demand, instead he watches her like a guardian angel. He gives her some martial arts training and as she gets more confidence in herself, she begins to confide in him. Caleb understands PTSD and the scenes where he simply holds Lana are as tender and sweet as any I've read.

I found Lana a harder character to understand. I couldn't fathom why she persisted in not telling anyone what she knew, even after she realizes that Caleb is there to help and that he loves her. I tried very hard to sympathize with her, and in some ways Lana is a very likable character, but I couldn't get past her secretiveness. Yes, she has PTSD, yes she is scared, but Caleb is right there with her. Kara, a terrorist, is working with children, someone, (presumably Kara) shoots Lana’s best friend and threatens her family - yet, still Lana persists in not talking, even though Caleb clearly can help, he wants to help, and he loves her! Inexplicable.

Kara, the woman who ordered Lana to be tortured and killed, is a sick and twisted character without a political or social agenda. She is madly devoted to another terrorist and fervently believes that her evil acts will please him. She is a disgusting creature and by far the most villainous villainess I've read in some time.

Caleb and Lana have great chemistry as a couple, and even more so when Lana finally talks to Caleb. The last third of the book moved so quickly that people sitting near me probably felt a breeze from the how quickly I was turning pages. If Lana had opened up earlier, and not been so closed mouthed, No Control would have earned DIK status, but Lana's TSTL behavior dropped the grade way down. Despite that, Shannon K. Butcher shows real promise. Her plots are tight, and her are characters are likable. Please, though, next time let them act reasonably.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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